Canada’s bloody oil | The Guardian Two Articles
Canada’s bloody oil
UK companies are extracting oil from our traditional lands. We believe it’s killing us – and that’s why I’m attending Climate Camp
My people are dying, and we believe British companies are responsible. My community, Fort Chipewyan in Alberta, Canada, is situated at the heart of the vast toxic moonscape that is the tar sands development. We live in a beautiful area, but unfortunately, we find ourselves upstream from the largest fossil fuel development on earth. UK oil companies like BP, and banks like RBS, are extracting the dirtiest form of oil from our traditional lands, and we fear it is killing us.
We have come to call the tar sands "bloody oil". This is why, this week, I am coming to London to attend the Camp for Climate Action, with the aim of internationalising the campaign for a complete tar sands moratorium.
We believe the extraction of oil from Canada’s tar sands is having a devastating impact on our indigenous people. This year, a study confirms that there are elevated levels of rare and other cancers among indigenous residents who live directly downstream from the tar sands activity, and that the contamination of our waters, snow, vegetation, wildlife and fish has grown exponentially in the past five years.
This evidence, however, is never acknowledged by the Albertan or Canadian governments, or the oil companies investing in the tar sands, when they promote it globally as being "environmentally sustainable".
People deserve to know the life and death impacts of the tar sands, especially residents of the UK, because your oil companies and banks are some of the biggest players.
In 2006, our community’s physician informed the responsible authorities that he was diagnosing disproportionate levels of unusual cancers. Rather than come to his aid, the provincial and federal health authorities charged him with "causing undue alarm" to our people; a charge that remains outstanding. Furthermore, we have proven that the levels of metals like mercury, arsenic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in our waters and sediment are abnormally high. Combined, these metals are known carcinogens that cause the type of rare cancers found in our community. But the government and oil companies continue to dismiss these claims, despite the rigorous scientific methods employed.
When the cancer study was released in February 2009, it did two things for residents of my community. First, it vindicated us. It proved our fears that we were burying our loved ones all too frequently were valid. Second, it created further anxiety in us because we believed that any one of us living in our community was now much more susceptible to becoming afflicted with cancer in the future.
Despite western scientists proving that there are elevated levels of metals in the water and sediment, vegetation, fish and snow; that the air quality in the region is worse than other geographic regions in Canada; and that the acid rain disposition is greater than other locales; the Alberta and Canadian governments continue to deny any of this evidence.
So, since 2006, our lives have been consumed with making governments and oil companies responsible and accountable in their quest to exploit the resources from our traditional homelands, a challenge that is often characterised as a "David & Goliath" situation.
Our community has called for a moratorium on any further approvals of these multibillion-dollar mega-projects. We have had support from doctors, former politicians, indigenous councils, and entire provinces for the moratorium. But we have never been heeded.
Alberta’s tar sands are now the subject of three legal actions by indigenous governments against the government of Alberta for not consulting with its indigenous communities before going ahead with this development, which has been called "the most destructive project on earth".
We realise that the development of Alberta’s tar sands is no longer just an issue central to those of us living in its direct path. Rather, it has become a global challenge. The greenhouse gases emitted are contributing to climate change globally – extracting oil from these sludgy deposits produces three to five times as much CO2 as conventional oil. The Alberta and Canadian governments unsparingly spend millions of dollars to promote investment in the tar sands worldwide. Foreign oil companies, including BP and Shell, are now much bigger beneficiaries from the exploitation of our resources than we are.
But what is most disturbing is the fear that any oil company or financial institution that invests in Alberta’s tar sands is contributing to the early demise of my people. To date, governments, banks and oil companies continue to deny this.
So we are grateful to our friends from the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Camp for Climate Action, who have joined together to support us. At the camp, we will share our struggle with activists from the UK. We hope that whichever UK residents we reach can assist us by persuading your government, national oil companies and banking institutions to reconsider their investment in Alberta’s bloody oil.
Cree aboriginal group to join London climate camp protest over tar sands
Canadian First Nations seek to highlight UK’s ‘criminal’ role in CO2-heavy oil schemes
A worker walks between huge trucks in Fort McMurray, Alberta. The oil sands extraction process requires top soil to be removed, is highly energy-intensive and releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide. Photograph: Orjan F. Ellingvag/Dagens Naringsliv/Corbis
Members of the Cree aboriginal peoples are to join the Climate Camp protests in the City of London this week in an attempt to draw attention to corporate Britain’s "criminal" involvement in the tar sands of Canada.
Five representatives from the Cree First Nations are coming to co-ordinate their campaign against key players in the carbon-heavy energy sector with British environmentalists.
Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, from Fort Chipewyan, a centre of Alberta’s tar sands schemes, said: "British companies such as BP and Royal Bank of Scotland in partnership with dozens of other companies are driving this project, which is having such devastating effects on our environment and communities.
"It is destroying the ancient boreal forest, spreading open-pit mining across our territories, contaminating our food and water with toxins, disrupting local wildlife and threatening our way of life," she said.
It showed British companies were complicit in "the biggest environmental crime on the planet" and yet very few people in Britain even knew it was happening, said Deranger. She was speaking ahead of an annual Climate Camp that will be held for one week somewhere in Greater London from this Thursday.
The exact site of the camp has not been revealed as green organisers are worried that the police might move to thwart their plans if they are notified in advance.
BP and Shell are two of the major oil companies extracting oil from the tar sands. The thick and sticky oil can only be removed from the sands by using a lot of water and power as well as producing far heavier CO2 emissions.
RBS, now partly owned by the British government after its financial rescue, is also a target of environmentalists and aboriginals because it is seen as a major funder of such schemes.
The Climate Camp concept started with a protest outside the Drax coal-fired power station in North Yorkshire and was followed up by similar protests at Heathrow – against the proposed third runway – and Kingsnorth in Kent, where E.ON wants to construct a new coal-fired power station.
There was also a Climate Camp in April at Bishopsgate inside the City of London, which became linked with bad policing after a bystander died following a clash with a constable.
The tar sands are seen by many as a particularly dangerous project providing enough carbon to be released in total to tip the world into unstoppable climate change. Shell was the first major European oil company to invest in the Canadian-based operations but BP followed under its chief executive, Tony Hayward.
The oil companies both dispute the amount of pollution caused by tar sands and insist they must be exploited if the world is not going to run out of oil.
But George Poitras, a former chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, said the so-called heavy oil schemes were violating treaty rights and putting the lives of locals at risk. He said: "We are seeing a terrifyingly high rate of cancer in Fort Chipewyan, where I live. We are convinced these cancers are linked to the tar sands development on our doorstep."
“Climate policy is characterized by the habituation of low expectations and a culture of failure. There is an urgent need to understand global warming and the tipping points for dangerous impacts that we have already crossed as a sustainability emergency that takes us beyond the politics of failure-inducing compromise. We are now in a race between climate tipping points and political tipping points.”
David Spratt, Philip Sutton, Climate Code Red, Australia, Published July, 2008